what was your first love?

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church. God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says: 15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless. 18 “Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. 19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!

Revelation chapter 3, verses 14 through 19 from The Message

At my previous appointment I lead a small group on the topic of sexuality; particularly in how we need to relate to the Gay community. It was built around a book that I highly recommend for your reading: Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach. The next day, one of the members of this group asked me a question: What is the worst sin? She then followed up her question with her own answer: It would have to be rejecting Jesus. Sounds like a good answer, right?

But I had another one of those “Holy Spirit” moments where He put His hand over my mouth and chose to speak instead of me: That’s bad, for sure. But the answer is the sin that makes God want to puke: Lukewarmness! Jesus weeps over sinners who reject Him. But folks and churches that are lukewarm make Him puke! Picture this in your mind: Jesus kneeling before that heavenly commode and violently puking! That doesn’t fit all those Renaissance pictures hanging on church walls. And Zophran won’t stop the puking.

The remedy is simple: Do what Jesus told the Church at Laodicea–RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE! That first love was Jesus–and loving only the things that Jesus loves. But along their journey they started loving other things, too. And they thought they were OK with God because they still loved Jesus–it’s just they loved other things, too. The consequence of that kind of thinking resulted in a Lukewarm Makes Me Want To Puke kind of love for Jesus. Laodicea wasn’t the only church that had that problem. We see it today.

Progressives say they love Jesus–but they also love their gender and sexual desires. And it’s not just progressives. Even the Orthodox have shown they love Jesus–but they also love other things. They love their pristine sanctuaries. They love their programs. And they love their buildings and bank accounts–because they are more worried about losing their buildings and bank accounts if they disaffiliate with their Annual Conference than loving Jesus first and foremost!

Friends, we are at the edge of another Great Awakening! If we are going to experience it and be a part of another great Movement Of The Holy Spirit, then we need to go back to our First Love–Jesus and the things He loves. Saturday I posted about this. (click here for the post) Folks, we are at our own October 31, 1517 moment. That was when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses! And the world change; my, oh my, how it changed–for the better. Do you want to see our culture be transformed? Then return to your first love–and leave all those others loves in the dust. If you can’t be the gender you feel like–that’s no real loss; if you lose your real estate to the Annual Conference–that’s no real loss–when compared to the Glory that awaits us now and in eternity when Jesus is our First–and ONLY–Love!

Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!

PERMISSION GRANTED!

I was thinking this morning–even though sometimes I shouldn’t. But I was. I was thinking about a lot of stuff–why was this happening, why wasn’t that happening, what’s wrong with the world? Then a sombering thought broke through: What’s wrong with me? Please, no comments from the peanut gallery–I was dead serious. What was to be my time with The Trio (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) was constantly being interupted by this plethera of thoughts. Finally The Spirit was able to get a word in edgewise in the midst of all this thoughts of mine; He said, “Give us permission, and we will help you get your focus back.”

Permission! I hit the breaks to all those other thoughts, stuffed them back into the closet where they belonged, and I gave my Permission to The Trio to take control. All it took to settle my gray matter down, was to give my Permission to The Holy Spirit to take control. And thus this morning’s musings about Permission. Whatever thoughts we have are there because we have given them Permission to be there. And whatever is in our heart? You guessed it! It’s there because we have given it Permission!

And just as quickly as we gave something else Permission to run wild in our heart and mind, we can give Permission to our Heavenly Father! Giving God Permission is quick–but not always easy. Giving God Permission to take over contradicts what we’ve been taught, what we believe, and how we see life. Those thoughts, ideas, and beliefs will cry out that you’ve been wounded by God. But you haven’t been wounded by God–only those thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that have set up shop in your mind and heart have been wounded. But you? You are being set free and liberated from the chaos and confusion that comes without God on the throne of your heart. I leave you this morning with these words about Permission–straight out of the Bible; the Old Testament even!

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    He’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (The Message)

HE LOVES TO CREATE!

Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains

Debbie and I are on another sabbatical. We intentionally take at least 2 sabbaticals each year. Occasionally we have taken 3–and sometimes 1 or less. Most folks calls the vacations. We prefer the word “sabbatical” because when most folks hear the word “vacation” they think of an agenda of going here and doing this, that, and the other. We have found that vacations leave us tired–but sabbaticals leave us refreshed and renewed.

One of our sabbaticals is going to the Smoky Mountains. Most of our time this year will be spent at the condo that one of her cousins graciously allows us to stay here free of charge. We arrived here late Monday afternoon. And against our usual tradition, yesterday was a bit of a busy day. Normally we settle into a routine of rest and relaxation. Instead, we went out for breakfast–a meal we usually prepare where we stay. But we wanted to try a new place that some friends of ours recommended we try. It was Crockett’s 1875 Breakfast Camp. Now, they are not a sponsor of this blog, but I highly recommend them if you are ever in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Since we were already out, we decided to go through Cades Cove, a beautiful place with a rich history. And thinking about yesterday has led me to today’s thought: God Loves To Create! This morning as I sat on the deck looking out and talking with the Holy Spirit, I blurted out, “Man, you just love to create, don’t y’all!” And I realized the great joy God had as He began creating this amazing universe. I was thinking about all the scenes we saw, the rocks, the trees, and all the wild rhododendrons we saw, and me and Debbie talked about how beautiful it will be in the spring when the wild rhododendrons would begin blooming.

And as those thoughts were running through my mind, the Holy Spirit put another thought into my mind, and it went straight to my heart. He said, “Oh, yes we love to create, but we love even more to re-create our Image Bearers back into Our Image and it brings us even greater joy!” And I thought–thought about the moment when I was 16 and surrendered my life to Jesus. And I thought about the many more moments when I screwed it up and made my life a mess–but The Father was right there with open arms willing to take me back again–and picked right up where I resisted and continues to this day re-creating my life.

Then I had a fresh memory of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 and verse 17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! Pay attention to how that verse ends: “a new life has begun!” Not over–but begun! There is a journey, a process, that The Father takes us on where HIS work continues to shape, form, and transform us back into His image. And every moment when we allow HIM to take over our heart, mind, and will–well, it just brings Them a much greater joy that when They finished the physical creation! And I leave you this morning with this song that spoke into me hope, life, and strength! I hope it does for you, too!

OH LORD, IT’S MONDAY! iT’S A WON’T OR WANT DAY!

Resistance to change seems to be an inherited trait among the human species. Not all change is good–but when God brings about change–it is always good. The results of those God-initiated changes create within us one of two responses: Won’t or Want! Ain’t the English language–well–confusing. Two words that sound exactly the same–but their meanings are polar opposites. We can desire the changes God is doing–or we can refuse to be a part of the changes God is doing.

Not desiring–or WON’T–what God is doing compounds the feelings of dread, angst, despair, and all their cousins make every day a pain to the point that we become someone other than who God created us to be. But if we desire–that is, WANT–what God is doing, it makes every day an adventure–challenging adventures sometimes–but an adventure nonetheless. Though we may “like” who we are at the moment–God sees much more. And to bring that out, God initiates changes to bring out who He sees.

When God initiates change, the purpose is always to make us whole, stronger, and to transform us in His Image. To change how you feel about this week–change how you feel about the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Every moment possesses the opportunity to be more like Jesus. Open yourself up, and say to The Father: “Dad, I WANT the change that You see is necessary for me to be who I am created to be.”

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, verses 17-18, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” And when we WANT that change rather than WON’T, then we can say, “Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?”

Oh Lord, It’s Monday! And there’s no transforming grace

According to progressive theology, there is no need for grace that transforms us for the following reasons:

  • God loves us just the way we are
  • God wants us to love Him just the way we are
  • God wants us to love others just the way they are
  • (Sounds good so far, right?)
  • Because God loves us just the way we are and because we love others just the way they are, He blesses and sanctifies the way we are
  • That loves erases the idea that we have been infected with sin–i.e. changes that sin into holiness without us changing a thing, other than being loving
  • We are free to keep living the way we have been as long as we love others
  • Loving others must include accepting, condoning, approving, AND blessing their sin of choice
  • The only parts of the Bible that are accurate and relevant are those verses that talk about unconditional love
  • Jesus died on the Cross so that WE can determine what is right or wrong, as long as we love

Therefore there is no such thing as Transforming Grace. Why would anyone ever need to change, to be transformed? Right? Just embrace love and be loving–that’s why Jesus died on the Cross. This sounds like a simple solution to all the human problems today. And yet, even those who have embraced Progressive Theology continue to be unhappy, suspicious, and angry at everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

And the Monday Morning Attitude continues to overwhelm people. The primary reason. . .scratch that. . .the only reason we dread another week is because we have failed to be transformed by God’s Grace or we have forgotten that God’s grace HAS and IS transforming us. As long as we are unwilling to allow His Grace to work on us and in us, then each week provides us only with more misery, disappointment, and heartache.

Thankfully God’s Grace is Transforming us. Grace means God has been working to change us, is working to change us, and will continue to work on changing us until we are exactly who HE made us to be! Each week, each day, each hour, each minute, and every second God is working to make us whole and complete. The problems you are facing are moments where God’s Transforming Grace shines! The fears, anxieties, even failures–God’s Grace is at work to make us stronger, livelier, healthier, and confident.

When we open ourselves to God’s Grace and allow His Grace to change us–then we can say: Good! Lord, it’s Monday! What shall we do together?

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1-2

But What About?

The above is a picture of one of our local “fast food” chains. It’s also one of the homes for “Old Coots Giving Opinions”. Yes, I have sat among them. This location is in the middle of a remodel and update. The outside is going to look “brand new”. But what about the inside? Honestly, I do not know how it passes it’s monthly inspection. Sometimes the food is lukewarm, and I’m with God on what lukewarm makes you want to do. The culture of the management, well, it doesn’t fit in with the best examples. Some employees make the effort to do a great job–the others are just there to get a paycheck. And the floors? Not very clean–especially in the food preparation area.

But the outside is going to look great! And a lot of people today live by the same attitude. As long as the outside looks great, that’s all that matters. Many even believe that if they can get the outside looking great that the inside will automatically look great. Others vainly believe that if they successfully tackle the outside appearance, then they can do something about the inside.

It might be, mind you, I said “Might be”, great if this formula really worked. But it doesn’t. Think about the encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were all about the outside appearances. They worked diligently on the outside. And here’s what Jesus had to say about all that sincere effort: 27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew chapter 23 verses 27 & 28). Around here we have this thing called “Decoration Sunday”. Cemeteries are cleaned up and new floral arrangements are put out by families and friends. It’s looks good on the outside–but in a few months those arrangements are faded. And what lies beneath the trimmed sod, hasn’t changed.

So, what’s a person to do? Well, may I suggest what King David did? For the most part his “outside” looked pretty good. But his inside needed help; a lot of help. So he penned in Psalm 136 verses 23 and 24 (NLT): “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Someone may be thinking: “God doesn’t want to see what’s inside me!” But He has already seen it. David trusted God with the mess inside him–and so can you!

To me, the best part of The Good News is that it doesn’t matter to Jesus what our outside looks like. He starts in the places we need Him most–on the inside. He wants to lead you from the inside to the outside in a journey that will radically transform you more than any “curb appeal” work you can try. As far as that “fast food” location here? I can only hope they will eventually get to the inside. After all, that’s what matters the most!

An Appointment For An Adjustment

At 8:00 a.m. Central Daylight Savings Time, I have an appointment for an adjustment. NO! It is not an attitude adjustment! I know what some of you were just thinking! I don’t need an appointment for that. I have a wife. . .and God for that, thank you very much. Both quickly do that for me with me scheduling an appointment–and they do it graciously. It’s time for me to visit my chiropractor, Dr. Fetter. And don’t tell me that chiropractic care is snake oil medicine. My shoulder blades, right shoulder, lower back and right hip will, in harmony, quickly tell you that you are bonkers and to leave me alone!

But this upcoming chiropractic adjustment appointment did get me to thinking about what you just thought I needed: An Attitude Adjustment! I am totally convinced that this culture is run amuck with prodigality and profligacy abandon. In case you do not know what prodigality and profligacy means:

It seems that everywhere I turn, people’s attitudes are. . .what’s the word I’m looking for? Dense and slow on uptake. Nothing is ever right. Nothing is ever enough. I lived under those attitudes for 29 years–but never again! Attitudes like always angry. Always critical. Always resentful. Always distrustful. Always better than you. Always snarky. Well, maybe not ALL the time–just Ivory Soap time–99.9%. They dwell on things like misery, crankiness, doubt and suspicion. They are always right and you are always wrong. This list is ad infinitum.

So, how can people get an attitude adjustment–I mean, without using a baseball bat and sledge hammer? Can you believe that the Bible has the answer–and it’s all without violence? Well, not physical violence, but tearing down old attitudes can be violent, for some. It’s what Paul told the church in Rome in his letter to them.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

Changing our attitudes begins with more than changing our minds–but having our minds Transformed into the mind of Christ. But Transforming the mind takes more than decision or resolution. It takes surrender–placing it before God as an offering. Offering is something given over–and given up to another. We need–URGENTLY need to think in a totally different way–the way Jesus thinks. Then–AND ONLY THEN–will we have the right attitude!

The Rich Lighter Life!

I have no clue as to what you are thinking about today’s Title: The Rich Lighter Life! Maybe you thought about a gold plated with diamonds Zippo lighter. Nope, that’s not it. Unless you are from the country, you may not know what Rich Lighter is. Well, I’m from the country. In fact, a friend posted one of those “tests” to see how “country” you are. Out of a possible high score of 30, I scored 28. I could have scored 29 but I have never touched an electric fence. I’m not as dumb as I act.

As you may know now, Debbie and I are on our annual spiritual retreat to the Smoky Mountains. We rent a cabin for a week and only venture out once, twice at the most. The remainder of our time is spent here in this cabin. This particular cabin has a wood burning fire place. Being winter and all, I decide to pack some fire wood to enjoy the fireplace. You know that to have a fire in the fire place, one needs something to start the fire. I could have cheated and went to WalMart and purchased those neat little fire starters. But remember, I’m a country boy.

Before we left I went just to the edge of the woods surrounding our home and found some Rich Lighter. Researching for this post I discovered that some call it Fatwood. When a pine tree is either cut or is knocked over when it is alive, it is filled with sap. The sap, or resin if you prefer, trapped in the stump becomes hard over time. This sap contains  terpene, a volatile hydrocarbon. I know you are not wanting a lesson in organic chemistry, so I will get to the point.

This hardened resin is very flammable. With just a small handful of Rich Lighter, one can easily start a fire. I put some newspaper in the fireplace, added my Rich Lighter, then the kindling and the wood and lit the newspaper. The picture above is the results of my endeavors. And to show you how little it takes, the picture below is how much I used. The Alabama Crimson Tide mug is symbolic of the power of Rich Lighter:

The Holy Spirit prompted me to do some thinking about Rich Lighter and fire places. The question many folks are asking, especially “church folks” is, “What is it going to take to change our churches, our communities, our nation, our world? Things are out of control!” It’s a great question to ask–IF–you are willing to dig deep for the answer. Asking the question in the expectation of someone else answering it is futile, ineffective, and fruitless. Nothing CAN change unless one knows the answer–and I found the answer in a handful of Rich Lighter.

What’s the answer to this “burning” question? YOU! That’s right, YOU! You may be thinking, probably ARE thinking, “How can I change what’s happening in Washington D.C.? How can I end domestic violence? How can I feed all those hungry families? How can I get people to listen and respect each other? How can I keep our church from closing its doors? How can I help people imprisoned by addictions? How can I do this in a way that really makes a difference? It’s really simple, folks. Remember my handful of Rich Lighter.

Just as a roaring fire can happen in a fireplace with just a handful of Rich Lighter, people, places, and situations change–just one person at a time. And YOU are the person that will start that Fire that will bring lasting change. It’s just that simple–not easy–but simple. Decades ago Kirk Kaiser wrote a song that I still sing today. The name of it is Pass It On. The first time I heard it was in 1971. It was a Sunday night Youth Service. I knew God was calling me into a relationship with Him. But I fought it off by holding on to the oak pew in front of me. I held on so tight I know that my fingerprints are permanently embedded in that pew at Green’s Chapel. That’s what it took for me to resist God’s Grace. And I succeeded. But, a little over a year later, in not so dramatic a moment, I finally surrendered to His Grace. And as the saying goes, “The Rest Is History!”

If you have the Holy Spirit inside you, (you do if Jesus is your Lord and Savior), that Fire is more than enough to start the process of transformation in people, places, and situations. Just as Rich Lighter easily ignites and spreads its fire to other wood, YOU can spread the Fire that will make the difference. But changing the world will never happen as long as you expect someone else to answer the question. I leave you with two songs–one is for me because I am a country boy–the second one is for YOU, Just listen to it:

One Resolution: One Spirit!

New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life.  The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment.  So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are.  I surfed the web and here is what I found:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read More

Here’s what else I found:  It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point.  Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions.  And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them.    Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions?  I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment.  When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:

  1. Most People are not content with their lives.  In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
  2. Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives.  According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.  This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%. 
  3. Every human heart longs for contentment.  Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.

But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life?  And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life?  Does that sound good to you?   But wait!  There’s more. 

What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested?    Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make.  Want to know what it is?  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  “Oh, is that all it is preacher?  Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics?  I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel!  Thanks for nothing!” 

And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel.  We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving.  And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel.  But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do

The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us.  It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ.  We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct.  But remember Paul didn’t write in English.  He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word:  Live As Citizens of Heaven. 

This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace.  And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength.  And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse.  For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us!  Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.

And this process is found in ONEOne Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret.  And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year.  So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit.  And here’s The 1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit. 

Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit.  What Is Your Spirit?  The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.”  And it is, but I want you to go deeper.  Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process.  And this is the real problem.  Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit.  Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained.  Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit:  One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart!  So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.

And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions.  He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit.  Here is how to develop this One Spirit. 

1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace

Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace!  And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace?  Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace:  hungering and thirsting.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled. 

It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God.  It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray.  It is about all that God offers.  And trust that God will provide His grace.  When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God.  When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God.  And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.

2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion

Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material.  Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily.  But that’s not Devotion.  The Dictionary Defines Devotion As:  Profound Dedication.  It is moving your life in the direction of God.  This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 

Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to.  Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion.  If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football.  If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self.  Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence.  It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere.  Make God your greatest passion.

3. Live With Total Determination

It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight.  It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough.  Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome.  To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About. 

It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 

Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin.  But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross.  Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life.  Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him. 

Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  So here’s your Next Steps:

  1. Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
    • Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
    • Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible.  Begin with Philippians
  2. Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
    • Find a person who has a need, and meet that need
    • Find something happening locally
    • Talk with me about starting something new
  3. Dream of something that only God can do

Same Ol’ Same Ol’–OR

And they are OFF TO THE RACES! All those people who have determined that this year is going to be different! New gym memberships by the boatload. New weight loss memberships by the truckload. Downloads of fitness and weight loss apps by the tens of thousands. A New Year and A New You, proclaims the self-help gurus. Just buy this book; pay for that monthly webinar; subscribe to the other life-coach and YOU WILL SEE A DIFFERENT YOU! Yeah…right…pardon my sarcastic look right now.

It seems that there are still those who think that the purpose of a New Year is so that they can make some resolutions that, when followed, will make them better…make them happier…make them contented. So they Google and Google about how to make realistic Resolutions. Then they Google some more about Steps To Take To Keep Those Resolutions. All this with the Illusion that 2020 is really going to be different for them. Add that this marks the beginning of a new decade–the Illusion gains strength.

REALITY CHECK! Most resolutions are broken the first week; or at best, in the first month. And the rare person who actually keeps those resolutions for the whole year? If they are honest with themselves, they will admit their resolutions didn’t really change them. I not convinced that there are any who keep all their resolutions–It’s a myth, I say! A MYTH! So on January 1, 2021 they will get back on the hamster wheel and make it squeak even louder.

Well, can you? The Truth is that no amount of resolutions can really make lasting changes in you. There is only one Source where this can happen in my life, your life, anyone’s life and everyone’s life. It is the place that is resisted and that’s why so many keep spinning the hamster wheel and making it squeak. That Place is at the foot of the Cross where we surrender to the truth that we are all screwed-up sinners and utterly incapable of changing our reality.

Not only does it take surrender, but it also requires something harder–SUBMISSION TO GOD! Many want to submit to God–but on their terms. That’s not submission–it’s a negotiation and God doesn’t NEGOTIATE! If you really want to be more than a better person–if you really want to become a DIFFERENT PERSON you don’t need more resolutions. We all need Transformation! Transformation happens only 1 way–by surrendering and submitting to the only one who knows who you can become when you stop trying to allow others, or even yourself, to define who you are. Read this next part slowly (I’m typing it slowly to help you read it slowly:)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

To Change THE Culture, Change YOUR Culture!

(Second message in current message series “How To Change The Culture”

To refresh your memory, this series is about becoming How To Change The Culture!.  Hopefully last week we learned that in order for God to use us To Change The Culture, we have to become the weakest of the weakest. 

One thing that hit me is that we often operate with the mindset that we can Change The Culture and the church by Working Through God.  Allow me to explain what that means:  Working Through God Means We Take Our Ideas And Our Plans And Our Beliefs And Expect God To Bless It And Bring Success. 

The Church is designed a different way.  Rather Than Us Working Through God, The Kingdom Is Designed For God To Work Through Us.  I know this is a subtle difference, but can you see the difference? 

It would not be Gideon doing this through God, but God doing it through Gideon.  This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he describes our relationship as He being the vine and we becoming the branches.  It’s About Yielding To The Presence, Power, And Purposes Of God. The flow is from the Vine going into the Branches. Fruit is produced because of what the Vine is putting into the branches. The branches don’t tell the vine what to do. The Vine defines what the branches do.

Today Gideon shows us the next step in becoming qualified for the God Sized Purpose in life.  Let’s look pick up the reading in Judges 6:17-32

Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.  Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”  Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree.

The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.”  And Gideon did as he was told.  Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 

When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”  “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.”  And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”).  The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old.  Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it.  Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully.  Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”  So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town. 

Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down.  In their place a new altar had been built, and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed.  The people said to each other, “Who did this?”  And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash. 

“Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of Joash.  “He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.”  But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal?  Will you argue his case?  Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning!  If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!”  From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.

God has informed Gideon that he has been chosen to Change The Culture and that He, God, is with him and that He would fight for Gideon.  Now we come to Gideon’s response.  Every time we encounter God requires a response from us.  It is the nature of the Divine Encounter.  Even if we think we’ve made no response, we have made a response.  There’s no way around it.  We either grow deeper into that relationship or we go further away from that relationship.  And growing deeper inevitably requires taking action.

And here is the one thing you need to remember from today’s message: Before The Culture Of This Nation And Our Tribe Can Change, You Must Change Your Culture.

I have parable for you this morning.  There are 5 frogs sitting on a log.  3 of them decide to jump.  How many frogs do you have left?  Is your answer 2?  5-3=2.  Is your answer 0, because if one frog jumps, then all the others will join?  Are you ready for the answer? 

The answer is 5!  How did I arrive at that answer?  Easy.  I never said they jumped, just that they made a decision.  And here is where the church is at today:  We Haven’t Taken The Leap Of Faith Into The God-Sized Purpose Of Changing Our Culture.

With the assurance of His presence and the promise of His power, Gideon acts.  But notice the way he acts.  He doesn’t get his sword and round up an army.  He doesn’t go looking for a fight. 

The truth is that his first response has nothing to do with the problem of the Midianites.  It deals with His Own Personal Culture.  And here’s the first lesson about accepting the mission of this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture:

1.  Gideon Worships God!

To make sure he has heard everything right, Gideon asks if it’s appropriate to offer worship.  I can just see God in heaven.  He smiled when Gideon said, “I’m too weak!”  And when Gideon asks for permission to worship first, God did more than smile.  He danced!  Those end zone dances you see in the NFL are nothing compared to when God dances. 

So off Gideon goes to prepare the sacrifice for worship.  He cooks a young goat and makes unleavened bread with an ephah of flour, that’s what the KJV says.  An ephah of flour is over a half a bushel.  A young goat and a loaf of bread made from over a half a bushel of flour.  Don’t you get what’s happening?  Remember the first half of this chapter.  Most of their crops have been destroyed along with their flocks and herds. 

They are reduced to starvation.  But Gideon takes a young goat and a half a bushel of flour and with that, he worships God.  He’s not offering God something out of his abundance. 

He’s offering God what is probably the bulk if not all that he has in worship.  Worship Is About Surrender—Surrendering All That We Have And Are To God.  There are 168 Hours In A Week and many think that because they spend 1 hour out of 168 in a sanctuary on Sunday that they have worshipped God.  Time spent in this sanctuary amounts to .59% Of Your Week.  A little over a half a percent. 

Now, would you consider that an acceptable offering to God?  If God is going to Change The Culture of our nation and tribe through us, then worship needs to be an offering of our best—our time, our heart, our energy.  It must be your heart every moment you are awake; the attitude we carry in the home, to work, to shopping, to everywhere!  Worship is about keeping focus on the Presence, Power And Purposes of God.

When Gideon offers this worship, look at what the angel says:  Put the meat and bread on the rock, and then pour out the broth on it.  Now, for Gideon’s world this was ridiculous.  Gideon could have protested, “Look, I slaved over this meal and this is perfectly good soup.”  But he doesn’t.  He does exactly what he is told.  The angel took his staff and touched the offering and fire came from the rock and consumed it all. 

Here’s the Lesson that seems to have been forgotten by so many:  We Provide The Instruments For Worship, But Only God Provides The Fire.  The angel disappeared and Gideon knows he’s been in God’s presence and thinks “Well, I cooked the goat, but now my goose is cooked!”.  But God speaks to Gideon words filled with hope. God’s voice doesn’t boom out from heaven, but in a gentle way God says,  “Don’t Be Afraid!”  And this leads us to the second thing you must understand about accepting this God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture.

2.  Gideon’s Culture Changed Because Gideon Was Changed First.

He names that place Yahweh Shalom—God Is Peace!  Before Gideon could change the culture of his nation, he needed to Change His Own Culture.  Gideon had been afraid and blaming God.  But now Gideon’s heart has been changed.  Even with the fear and all the questions he had, Gideon learns a most important lesson:  He Learns To Trust God. 

In that trust he discovers the Peace Of God.  We are not going to change our nation by forwarding emails and signing petitions or gripping about our leaders.  The Process Of Change Begins With Us.  God changed The Culture but He started with Gideon. 

God can and God will change Our Culture, but it starts with the person you see in the mirror.  Now Gideon is in a position for God to use him.  And God goes right to work using Gideon.  And here is the third a final lesson today about being qualified for the God-Sized Task:

3.  Gideon Had To Cut Down His Asherah Pole.

What’s an Asherah Pole?  Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.  She was the wife of the god known as Baal.  She was the one they were thinking could bring fertility to the ground—abundant crops—multiply livestock—and cause their wife to produce a lot of children.  These were all signs of prosperity and strength.

The more crops one had, the more livestock and kids one had, the more they thought they were strong.  They believed their strength came from the Asherah pole. 

As Long As They Thought Their Strength Came From The Asherah Pole, The Asherah Pole Held Them In Prison And Bondage.  

So Gideon goes out to do it, but at night.  Why at night?  Because he’s afraid of what the others might do to him.  Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, there goes Gideon the Coward again!”  But there’s another way to look at this:

Even though Gideon still has some fear issues in his life, it doesn’t keep him from doing what God wants, and as you will see, it will not disqualify him from what God is yet to do. The results are the same.  If you allow fear of this God-Sized task keep you from doing anything, God cannot use you to change The Culture

The Asherah Pole had to come down before he went into battle against the Midianites.   Why?  So that no one would think their strength came from the Asherah Pole, but only from God.  Before They Could Set The Nation Free, They Had To Be Free. 

And what about your Asherah Pole?  Asherah Poles are all around us today.  Oh, they don’t look like the Asherah Poles of Gideon’s day, but they are just as real.  What is your Asherah Pole?  Idols are still present today, they just look different. 

Is your Asherah Pole the desire to be comfortable?  Is your Asherah Pole the desire for convenience?  Is your Asherah Pole what you consider important?  Is your Asherah Pole contentment with complaining and doing nothing, but complain?  Is your Asherah Pole fear?  Anger?  Despair?  Selfishness?  Apathy?

Do what Gideon does:  Cut It Down And Put It On God’s Altar.  God cannot use you to Change The Culture of this nation and church until you cut down your Asherah Pole.  But if you will, God will Change You, Then Change Your Culture And In Changing Your Culture, He Will Change The Culture.

Last week you were given a choice for your next step.  Join up with all the complaining; or give up that anything will ever change; or step up and become the next Gideon.  Here’s this week’s Next Step

1.  You Can Hold On To That Idol, Whatever It May Be.  OR

2.  Cut Down The Asherah Poles In Your Life.  Get rid of those things that are holding power over you.  Your confidence and strength comes from your relationship with God—a relationship that comes through Grace, Grace revealed on the Cross.

Recalculating: For Such A Time As This!

Today I want us to look at another Old Testament story to see what happens when we Recalculate Our Heart To Move In The Direction Of God’s Heart.  If You Can Remember Only One Thing, This Is It:

God Is Looking For People Who Will Live Each Moment As If They Were Born Such A Time As This—Because You Are.

Today it’s the story of Esther.  It’s around 470 BC in Persia.  King Xerxes is throwing a wild party for the leading men of his nation.  On a drunken whim, the king orders his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself before all his guests.  She refuses, creating panic among the men:  What if their wives heard about it and followed her example?  Terrified at the prospect of such a thing, they convince the king to get rid of Queen Vashti.  But the king gets lonely.  Seeing his misery, the king’s advisors devise a plan. They will host a beauty pageant, gathering the most dazzling women from the kingdom, so the king can have “the pick of the litter”.  Enter Esther!

Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to enter the Beauty Pageant.  But he wants her to hide something important—that she is a Jew—numbered among the people of God.  If the promoters of this beauty pageant find out she’s a Jew, they won’t ever consider her.  And he was right in that analysis.  If she wants to win the king’s favor, it will come at the price of hiding who she really is.  She’ll have to act just like everyone else.  And we know she wins.

Something happens, though, to throw all of this into jeopardy. It happens because of Mordecai’s resolve to be God’s Person.  There is a man in the kingdom named Haman, who is second in command to King Xerxes.  That’s a lot of power, but it’s never enough for men like Haman.  

He not only wants power; he wants others to flatter him, and inflate his already oversized ego.  That’s Haman—powerful, insecure, and a threat.  Whenever he passes by, everyone must bow down to him in an elaborate tribute.  But there’s Mordecai—so insistent that Esther conceals her true identity—decides this business with Haman has gone on long enough.  It was time to stand up and be counted.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.

Haman is furious with his actions and he hatches a plot.  He goes to King Xerxes and informs him of a people—God’s people—who are causing problems.  He convinces the king that it’s in the king’s best interests to completely annihilate them by genocide.  He even offers to finance the project!  Without blinking an eye, the king gives a nod of approval.  Posters are soon plastered all over the kingdom, saying:  Kill all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on March 7 next year.  When Mordecai hears the news, he does what any good Jew would do—he repents.  

He puts on sackcloth and covers himself with ashes—the clothing and gestures of repentance, and goes through the city, weeping and crying.  Why offer repentance?  Hasn’t the wrong been done by Haman?  Mordecai repents because he knows he has wronged God by trying to hide.  To borrow the words of James 4:4, Mordecai realizes that “If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

When Esther hears about her cousin’s behavior, she is concerned. She doesn’t care what’s going on; she just wants him to stop it.  She sends him a message to stop it.  But Mordecai refuses to turn away from his repentance.  So she sends another message.  Let’s pick up the story in Esther 4:13-17

13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther:  “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die.  Who Knows If Perhaps You Were Made Queen For Just Such A Time As This?”  15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will do the same.  And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king.  If I must die, I must die.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther 4:13-17 (NLT) (emphasis mine)

At the risk of racing through this amazing story, let me sum it up quickly.  She gets her opportunity and invites both Haman and the king to 2 special banquets.  Haman is delighted—proud and puffed up to know he is the only person chosen to attend the gathering alongside the king.  His spirits are quickly cooled because he saw Mordecai again and again he refused to bow down before Haman.  When he came home, he was complaining to his wife and family, “I’m the only one invited to the banquet the Queen has prepared for the King, and this, this heathen Mordecai dishonors me.”  So, his wife suggests he erect a tall pointed pole and impale Mordecai on it.  Well, Haman is happy again.  Haman thinks life is good again.

But the King couldn’t sleep the night before the banquet, so he had some servants read to him from the archives of his life as King.  I don’t know if he was wanting his ego stroked or if he thought the reading would be so boring he would fall asleep.  But then he hears about how a Jew named Mordecai had saved his life by revealing an assassination plot. 

Then he found out he had never properly recognized Mordecai for this, so he decides to honor him.  What happens next is pure irony—God is the Master of Irony!  The King sees Haman who is about to ask permission to kill Mordecai, and asks Haman how should someone really special be honored.  Haman, thinking it’s himself the King wants to honor says, “Give him one of your royal robes, give him one of your horses to ride and have a parade to tell everyone how wonderful this man is (wink-wink).  The king says, “Great idea!  Go get Mordecai ready for the parade, and you lead the parade telling everyone what a great man Mordecai is.” 

This humiliates Haman, but that evening it gets worse.  Esther then pleads for her people’s lives and reveals Haman’s evil plot and this angers the king.  Xerxes storms out, Haman falls on Esther’s couch to ask for mercy just when the King comes back in.  He gets the wrong idea, and has Haman impaled on the same pole he had built for Mordecai. 

Since the King cannot undo his decree to have the Jews killed, he gives another decree—they can defend themselves and their families.  Mordecai is then promoted to Haman’s position.  Let’s see if we can learn why The 21st Century Church needs a Change of Direction and Change of Heart, For Such A Time As This:

1.  We Are Living In A Time Of Moral Confusion.

If I or any preacher were to say:  “We are living in a time of immorality!”, there would be a loud echo of “AMEN!”  And we could cite instance after instance of why this would be true.  No doubt about it, immorality is in overabundance.  But I’m not so convinced the real issue of our culture is the immorality—as much as it is the Moral Confusion which exists.  The Crisis of our culture is the way it defines morality. 

The word definition of morality is simple:  “It Is The Principles That Mark The Distinction Between Right And Wrong Or Good And Bad Behavior.”  Our culture defines morality in contextual ways, rather than by Truth.  Here’s what I am trying to say.  Our culture defines right and wrong based on context, on the settingIf it’s OK in one setting, then it’s not immoral.

And it’s frustrating for us who identify as followers of Jesus.  Our culture needs to see a Morality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, in us.  I’m not talking about is it right or wrong to have a drink or divorce or the lottery or cut grass on Sunday—I’m talking about us living a full and joyful life by the standard God has given us. 

You and I are born for such a time as this—To Show How Meaningful Life Is When We Live It By God’s Standard.  This Chaos Is Alienating People—And We Can Be The Ones God Uses To End This Chaos.

2.  We Are Living In A Season Of Instability!

Without a solid foundation to define morality—the end result is that instability of character within people’s lives.  The Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary defines Character this way: 

“The Way Someone Thinks, Feels, And Behaves; A Set Of Qualities That Are Shared By Many People In A Group; A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.

Merriam-Webster Learner’ Dictionary

Focus on that last part:  A Set Of Qualities That Make A Place Or Thing Different From Other Places Or Things.  The instability of our culture is the direct result of the lack of being different from other places and things.  Most people don’t follow Jesus say that it’s because they don’t like the church.

And when they ask what the church is, they identify us by things we are against.  Character of heart and life isn’t measured by just what we are against—it is measured more by what we are for

  • We are FOR unconditional love. 
  • We are FOR people being treated with respect and dignity.
  • We are FOR values that build people up. 
  • We are FOR kindness. 
  • We are FOR compassion—love in action. 
  • We are FOR Grace and Mercy expressed as Forgiveness And A Commitment To A Life Of Holiness! 
  • We are FOR eliminating human distinctions. 
  • HOPE For A Life That Is Meaningful, Fulfilling And Abundant! 

This is why you are born for such a time as this.  To bring all this and so much more, through the Kingdom of God—as seen in you.  And this leads me to my last point:

3.  We Are Living In A Time Of Despair.

The Lack Of A God-Centered Morality, The Absence Of Christ-Like Character Fuels The Despair That Is Consuming Our Culture In The U.S. 

Watch the news, look at Washington D.C., look at what’s happening in the streets.  It’s not the fault of the Democrats, nor the Republicans.  It’s the despair that’s fueling all of it.  No one sees or senses any hope for anything better.  So they argue and fight and point the finger of blame.  They become fearful and angry at each other. 

All because of the absence of one thing:  Hope!  Democrats can’t create hope.  Republicans can’t create hope.  Socialists can’t create hope.  Government can’t create hope.  And the hate, anger and frustrations of the people can’t create hope.  These only intensify the despair.  Hope is missing.  Why?

It’s the failure of so many in churches who have either forgotten, or never understood, That WE Have Been Born, WE Have Been REBORN For Such A Time As This. Despair is ripping apart the fabric of our nation and world. 

We Need A Recalculating Moment To See That We Are Born And Reborn For Such A Time As This.  To Bring Moral Clarity, Lasting Character And Living Hope. 

A Day Comes When We’ve Got To Stand, Be Counted, And Fight To Proclaim What We’ve Been Entrusted With.  Today Is That Day. 

We should know we will never win a pagan culture by mimicking it and all it values.   The strongest influence we can bring in these chaotic and desperate times is to simply be peculiar—to be, with neither pride nor apology, followers of Jesus. 

Our call, God’s vision for this place, will reveal the character of Jesus—a character saturated with love, mercy, grace and compassion—a character that just doesn’t point out what’s wrong with others, but sees their hurts and their needs—a character that does more than see their needs, but does something to meet those needs.

Your Next Steps is to accept these 3 truths and live them out:

1.  The People Of God Do Not Succeed In A Pagan World By Hiding Their True Identity.

2. You Can Win Admiration By Conforming To The Standards Of The Age, But It Will Take You Further Away From Having A Heart For God.

3.  We Have An Enemy Who Is Out To Destroy Us, And No Amount Of Hiding Will Save Us.

Did you catch Mordecai’s last warning to Esther?

“Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive.  If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, Help And Deliverance Will Arrive For The Jews From Someplace Else; but you and your family will be wiped out.”

God is at work bringing help and deliverance to this vast spiritual wasteland.  The issue for you and for all of us, will it be through some other people, or will we rise For Such A Time As This?

What I Am Discovering At New Room 2018

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When most attend a seminar, conference or retreat they usually say, “Well, this is what I learned.”  Notice the grammatical tense of that word.  It’s in the past tense.  I know my high school English teachers At Mrs. Weir and Mrs. Pettus would be shocked that I remembered anything from their lessons.  And I have been guilty of using that word “have learned”, that the lessons are in the past tense of my life.

But one of the many, many, many things God has been teaching this “getting older” man is that while life has a “past tense” it also has a “present” and a “future” tense.  Here is a nugget that God has been teaching me these past few years.  Lessons that we learn about Him and our relationship with Him are not to remain in the past existing as a memory.  These lessons are to be a continual part of this Journey in Grace.  Thus the title of this morning’s blog:  What I AM Discovering (notice the tense) At New Room 2018.

Most of these lessons are direct quotes or my shorthand version of those quotes from this incredible group of Holy Spirit Led and Empowered Speakers.  This list is by no means, everything I am discovering.  And if history repeats itself, as I’m sure it will, there will be even more discoveries come to my mind in this Journey In Grace:

There are too many loose ties and not enough strong bonds in most churches today.

 

There are things that happen when God’s People get together with Jesus in the lead, that would otherwise never happen.

 

God does the work, but He does it through us.  It’s time to get our hands dirty.

 

It’s not about trying to get God to abide in us–He’s already abiding–but it’s about getting US to abide in HIM!

 

Being a Christian is all about entering into THEIR Relationship–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and NOT about getting them to enter into OUR relationship.

 

There are some things in our life that happen only because of our relationship with Jesus.  And there are some things that will never happen in us if we are not in a relationship with Him.

 

Revival is more than goosebumps and excitement, but a driven passion and holy obsession in us.

 

When Jesus shows up, life happens!

 

Stop making excuses for doing nothing.  We have the King of Kings on our side and the Holy Spirit living in us!

 

Jesus left heaven for us.  It’s time we leave our stuff for Jesus! (Maybe my favorite quote!)

 

Find the broken.  Church ain’t the church unless it is reaching out into the community!  (OK, maybe this is my favorite quote!)

 

We need to ask God to break our hearts with what breaks His heart.

 

Fire in a home without a fireplace will do harm.  A fireplace in a home without fire is pointless.  We need The Fire or we are pointless!

 

There is no greater tragedy than a sick church in a dying world. (Leonard Ravenhill)

 

The Holy Spirit transcends human ability and transforms human inabilities!

 

It is wrong to think that the Bible contains the Holy Spirit.  The Bible constrains us.  The Holy Spirit cannot be contained anywhere.

 

If Jesus in human flesh needed the Holy Spirit, we especially need the Holy Spirit!

 

When the church stops being the church we will die and become a monument to what God used to do rather than the movement of what God is doing.

 

You do what you from your passion.  The church today has stopped doing out of its passion and replaced passion with a boring religious obligation.

 

God shouts to His enemies, but whispers to His friends.

Oh, this ain’t all of it.  But just some of the things the Spirit impressed on me to share with you readers.  Somewhere in these “nuggets” is a truth that some reader urgently needs to hear.  And remember….

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Cleansers!

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Well, time for my daily class assignment:  What did you learn yesterday?  As the day began I was looking forward to it.  But now?  I admit that it is a bit more difficult than I imagined.  Has that ever happened to you?  Something you thought you could do, easily do, but out of nowhere it became difficult.  Truthfully….I don’t like difficult.  Thinking about what to write was as blank as this graphic.  So what does one do when preparing for test time?  You review your notes.

Set up the beach canopy–check!  Cooler with drinks–check!  Beach towels–check!  Beach chairs set up–check!  Bag with snacks–check!  Reading materials–check!  Sunscreen and applied–check and check!  Feet buried in the sand–check.  What next?  Sitting in the shade of the canopy, looking at the scene graciously provided for us by The Creator.  Listening to the sounds of waves and birds.  When we were a bit warm, going into the Gulf to cool off, floating on the gentle waves.  Then a southerly breeze came in helping to keep us cool.  A couple of naps between finishing that book.

Where’s the lesson?  WHAT’S the lesson?  What am I forgetting?  And it finally hit me.  There was that moment I realized my mind was totally blank. (Please, no comments from the monkey gallery!)  And there were other moments when my mind was blank….cleansed from everything.  No thoughts about writing, the churches, my Dad, my own grief from Mother’s recent death.  My mind has been cleansed.  Think of it as a computer reset.  Cleansers–that’s the lesson.

There are cleansers for the face, microwaves, ovens, bathtubs, commodes, even this thing called a colon cleanse (now try to get that image out of your mind!).  My Father knew what I needed on that day–for my mind to be completely cleansed–to set aside all my thoughts–just to be me in the presence of my King and Creator!

The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts, but what can cleanse our minds?  The mind is more complicated and delicate matter.  A few sentences back I mentioned “colon cleanse”–how many of you still have that image in your mind?  If we try to get some thought out of our mind, say a certain song or a colon cleanse, it only seems to linger and grow roots.  And should we cleanse our minds of all thoughts, what will we replace them with?

I’m thinking about a story Jesus once told found in Matthew 12.  A man seemed to have rid his mind and heart of a demon.  The demon went looking for another home.  Failing to find one, he returned to that man.  Found the home of his heart and mind cleaned but unoccupied.  So he goes and gets 7 buddies and moves right back in.  And the point is???  Once your mind is cleansed, make very sure that it is immediately occupied with God’s presence.

When I had my mind cleanse, I did it intentionally in His Presence.  The result was that He rearranged some thoughts and replaced others.  Along with that process, He provided me with balance, perspective and wisdom.  And I urgently needed that to happen.  So when your thoughts overwhelm you, when you mind resembles that junk closet, take the time to be in His presence.  No agenda, no asking, no searching for answers–just alone with Him.  As you as prepare for this cleansing, and before you begin, make the decision to ask Him to sort it all out.  Add this “cleansing” process to your regular spiritual disciplines.  Allow it to be a part of your spiritual disciplines.  Balance, perspective and wisdom–all are gifts found only in His presence.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Excuse me now, I hear the bell for the next class to begin.  And I am ready for it, more than when this week began because I now have His balance, perspective and wisdom.

Learning From The Tide

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So far this has been a great Spiritual Summer Retreat.  Some may call it a vacation, but for me, it’s been a time of refocusing on God in my life.  Some of the things that have happened to me this year have been, well, challenging.  Truthfully, I let some of those things get the best of me.  My life has been off-kilter.  So God is using this time for me to get my “kilter” back.

This morning got me to thinking about The Tide.  No, not the greatest College Football Dynasty ever, but the “other” Tide.  No!  Not the laundry detergent either!  The ocean tide is a lesson I’ve been rediscovering in this time of retreat.  I am not certain John Wesley would agree with me, but the beach is a means of grace for me.

The Tide happens every day because the water is being influenced by outside forces.  Technically, it’s being influenced by a single source, gravity.  And the gravity that affects the Tide comes from 2 sources.  Do you know that they are?  Did you guess the moon?  Very good class.  Now, what’s the other source of gravity?  Did you say the sun?  Correctamundo!

The Tide in a particular area is determined by its position in relation to both the moon and the sun.  This gravitational pull determines whether the Tide is high or low.  And these gravitational forces come from outside our planet.  It is a force that is unseen, yet it produces a noticeable effect.  And here’s the lesson that this Tide is teaching me.

We are under the gravitational pull of another influence; whether we realize or not.  This force impacts how we think, what we say, what we do, and even why we do it.  They change the shape and direction of our life.  Either for good–and unfortunately–for bad.  Think back to the effect of the ocean Tide.  The ocean tides have a positive impact on marine life.  It also determines the best time for fishermen to catch fish.  And who doesn’t love a good seafood dinner?

But unlike the oceans that have no choice but to be affected by gravity, we do have a choice.  Remember that the ocean Tide is influenced at one time by the sun, and at a different time by the moon–it all depends on their location.  We choose which gravitational pull influences us–in any and all situations of life.  We all face situations which we did not cause–but our response to that situation–it is influenced by which outside source of power we live under.

Allow your life to be under the “gravitational pull” of the Holy Spirit.  Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 (NLT)

Those who are dominated (think about the tide) by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled (think about the gravitational forces on the oceans) by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.

More than thinking about the things that please the Spirit, it is about the impact of those thoughts and how they change the ways we think, speak, act, and why we do what we do.  That’s called MOTIVE.  Like the oceans are being influenced by the power of gravity from either the sun or the moon (and never both at the same moment), you are being influenced by some power that determines your journey.  Unlike the oceans that have no choice, you do have a choice.  And remember that line from the climatic scene in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”–“Choose wisely!”

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way He loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Now excuse me, but the classroom beckons me.  I wonder what the Tide is doing?

A Moving Journal-Day 6

Tomorrow the moving truck and crew arrive.  Well, no more trips to the curb.  This morning was pick-up day, and managed to get it all out there with 15 minutes to spare.  Timing is everything as they say.  Packed some more.  The Moving Supervisor, that’s my wife, informed me that I needed to take some clothes to the cleaners, and go to the liquor store–to get more boxes–come on now, quit thinking the worst.  While at the liquor store she calls and says I need to go buy some bigger boxes.  I still have some more to pack up.  While running those errands, I tuned in one of the local Country and Western stations.  Last few days I’ve gone back to my roots in my choice of music.

While listening to the radio, I heard a song I haven’t heard in years:  “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”.  What caught my attention with the song was what one of our grandson’s did when he was about 4, I think.  He was in Pre-K at the church he and his family attend.  In addition to education skills, they taught Faith Lessons.  Well, the teacher asked the Preacher’s Grandkid to ask the blessing at lunch.  With the room quiet, heads bowed, Ethan said, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.  Amen.”

Back home I needed to do some touch up painting in one of the rooms.  Then it was time to go to the dentist because I needed a cleaning and I had lost a filling and a cracked tooth.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Coming back home from the dentist, the Moving Supervisor sent me on a mission to Wal-Mart.  Oh, how I hate going to Wal-Mart.  Back home, ate lunch, then moving boxes as they were filled.  Oh, I put my 2 hunting rifles in their cases to protect them.  They will be going with me, not the movers.

Tomorrow morning the movers will arrive and these stacks of boxes will be no more.  So what lessons did I learn today?

  • I learned that there are always places in my heart and life that need “touching-up”.  By touching up, I mean that I have places in my heart that need some work.  And the work must be done by the Holy Spirit, after all, He gave me this new heart.  We had paint left-over when the rooms were painted, so it was easy to match it up.  I need the work of the Holy Spirit to continue to work on my blemishes.
  • I learned that self-care is necessary.  The trip to the dentist was long overdue.  I am good at taking care of others, but not so good at taking care of myself.  I must do a better job at that–after the move is completed, of course.
  • You can’t prevent the inevitable.  Ready or not, the movers will be here in the morning.  Once decisions are made, there will be an inevitable outcome.  Best we could do today is to be ready now for that tomorrow.  Every decision, every choice, every act has consequences.  Sometimes things are done to us by others and consequences are forced upon us.  However, we can see them as learning moments or we can fight against them.  Fighting is a losing battle.
  • Vision needs to be handled care.  The scopes on my hunting rifles are set for me.  If they get bumped about or mishandled, they may get out of alignment, and I would hate to know that the first time I go hunting.  So I take care of them.  And the vision that comes from God needs to also be handled with care.  If we get bumped around or “mishandled”, our vision could be out of focus.
  • Memories are a part of life.  This was the big one for me today.  When I thought about Ethan’s blessing at a Christian Pre-K, it hit me.  In life, memories are created–both good and bad ones.  Now each day we should focus on making good memories with the people we encounter.  But there are situations and people who create bad memories.  And we have a choice–focus on the bad memories or the good ones.  I choose to focus on the good one.  The bad memories will just eat you alive.  And I admit that when I heard “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, I laughed out loud and smiled.

Well, it’s time to wind down the day.  Tune in tomorrow for the next Episode of The Moving Journal-Day 7.  Say, “Good night, John Boy”.  Good night John Boy.

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Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 7 The Final Answer

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Well, here we are at the end of this semester.  I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans.  I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question:  How Do You Get Into Heaven?  Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans.  So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven?  Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some.  If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart:  How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God?  With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:

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We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan:  To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now!  And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens:  Be Born Again

Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian?  This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy.  It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”.  If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again.  If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian.  You don’t have to say it both ways.  Here’s a diamond of Truth:  You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again.  Not now—not ever!  But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!

Slide26.JPGThis was the source of confusion for Nicodemus.  Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means?  Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought.  And this is the one thing you need to remember today:  You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again!  We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people.  Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.

None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again.  So, how are we born again?  It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.

 1. We Die! Die to all that you have been.  If it’s your goodness, then die.  If it’s your sense of failures, die.  If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die.  If it’s your fears, die.  Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God.  Philippians 3:8-9—

8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God.  This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.

2.  Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God.  Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives.  But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.

Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.

This is what repentance means and looks like.  We turn away from that old life and into the new Life.  We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do.  You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward.  What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.

3.  Be Born By The Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life.  It’s the only power for people who are Born Again.  People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.

2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)— They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power.  Stay away from people like these!

This is what walking by faith means.  This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God.  You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit.  This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you.  It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam.  Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3

How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again.  The Final Exam has only 2 questions:

1.  Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away?  Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?

2.  Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost?  It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.

Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world.  At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher:  PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

And remember…love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!

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My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

In The World Church Versus Of The World Church

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Can you see the difference between “the church in the world” and “the world in the church”?  Of course you can, unless you’ve been blinded by the Wicked One.  When you try to operate your local church by the values and principles of this world, you will only be a petty and pathetic private club.  Not the vibrant Body Of Christ!

Transforming Grace

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The work of God’s Grace is always about transforming us into the instruments He wants in order to reclaim His Creation’s Image Bearers.  Being “in the world but not of the world” is not only possible through His Grace, it is ESSENTIAL to be a real follower of Jesus!

But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And makes sure all the glory goes to Him!

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Do You Serve Before God’s Altar?

OK, since God calls us to be a Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2:9) I ask you:  Whose altar is it?  Priests in the Old Testament served before the Altar of God, meaning God owned that altar.  If the altar is yours then the Fire of Revival will never fall on it.  The fire from Heaven didn’t fall on the altar of Jezebel’s priests because it wasn’t God’s altar.  As long as we try to control the altar, God’s fire won’t fall on it!

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A New Definition Of Hate

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OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I don’t keep up with all the current events.  The past 7 days, though, I have a good, a very good excuse.  But then, don’t we all?  Well, I feel like mine has some merit.  Last Wednesday I had a heart ablation from which I am recovering very well.  Then there’s this thing called HARVEY.  As our tribe’s (some call them denominations) Disaster Response & Recovery Coordinator there is much work I have to do in this role as a Bond Servant of Jesus.

This morning I checked my Twitter feed and was seeing all this stuff about The Nashville Statement.  It was a diatribe of hate, so I decided to read it for myself rather than read what others said about.  I know, how dumb can I be!  Wanting to read it for myself rather than trust all those progressive voices telling me what it means.  I saw some tweets comparing the writers and signers as supporters of the American Nazi movement.  Well, I read it and was left scratching my head wondering, “Where is the hate?  Did Google lead me to the wrong site?”

So I went back to those Tweets.  Aren’t they always reliable and truthful?  I found this link to an article written by John Pavlovitz titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation).  Well I thought, “OK!  I love plain language translations.  Here I can get to the heart of the real NASHVILLE STATEMENT, not the wrong one Google gave me.”  Well, there I go thinking again.  And thus why I am writing this morning.

His alleged “plain language translation” was simply a rehash of all the hate speech I had seen on Twitter.  After careful review and reflection of John’s comments and other similar reviews, I have reached an assessment, call it conclusion, not only about many progressives, but our culture in general.  And here it is:  “If you do not agree with me and my views then you automatically hate me and others like me.”

Really, John, et.al.?  I realize that in the arena of discussion about human sexuality that there is some hate speech going on, especially in the name of the Body of Christ.  And to those who express hate speech and identify yourself as (an alleged) Christian, I say to you, “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU!  REPENT IMMEDIATELY AND TURN TO GOD!”

I realize a lot of morons, excuse me, “well-meaning people” have taken biblical texts out of context to justify their position and made the Bible say things it doesn’t say.  But if one will take the time to see the whole picture of the Bible, there are only 2 stories.  The first story is God’s creation and His Intended Design.  It was perfect in every way.  And in the realm of sexuality it is very clear:  God created them biologically male and female, both equally revealing His image.  And marriage was defined as 1 husband (a man) and 1 wife (a woman).  Together they were to live in perfect relationship with God and together explore God’s creation.  Story #1!

The second story begins with the Fall, which introduces into God’s Creation a totally different purpose.  The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to restore fallen humanity back in His Original Intent and Design and away from this “Fallen” purpose.  Now anyone like me, who believes that God is busy setting back right all that we humans have messed up, is simply filled with hate, well John, you are all wrong about that!

Our culture has gone into a moral and spiritual wasteland when anyone with a different view or belief, is labeled HATEFUL!  Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it!  But then I remember those words of Jesus:  (Matthew 5:44 NLT) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  I hear a lot of people like John, who label themselves as progressives, pray AGAINST their perceived enemy and all the while calling for love above all.  Is it just me that sees the hypocracy of progressives?  They rant, rail and pray against their “enemy” while insisting that love should rule the day.

Yes, we are called to love but not at the sacrifice of the Truth.  I’ve heard the argument, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Nothing, so we shouldn’t.”  Well, He didn’t say anything against using meth or cheating on your tax return, or keeping that extra change that the cashier gave you, or a lot of other every day “stuff”.  But Peter made the connection in 1 Peter 1:15-16–“15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  And Holy is to be who and what God designed us to be.  If that is hate, then maybe you need a new definition of hate.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

 

Monitor Your Heart!

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I have some wonderful DNA in me, both the physical kind and that of the spiritual nature.  But due to the nature of this fallen creation, I do have some “not-so-wonderful” DNA.  On both sides of my DNA is a history of cardiovascular issues.  My Dad has been on hypertension medications since he was in his late 30’s.  About two and a half years ago, at 1189the age of 58 I began taking hypertension medications.  At the age of 88 he had triple bypass surgery and since 2008 I have had 2 arteriograms due to severe chest pains.  The first time I found out it was my gall bladder and the last time, my heart doc call it unspecified angina due to stress.  A pastor experiencing stress, who ever heard of such a thing!  Inconceivable!

Recently I have been experiencing something different.  I truly hate to sound like a hypochondriac, but due to the aforementioned DNA, my wife insists I go see our cardiologist.  It felt like my heart was racing away and I have a few episodes where it felt like my heart was bouncing against my sternum.  I checked my heart rate and it was 180 beats per minute.  Don’t think that was in the normal range.  The pain wasn’t sharp, but a real sense of pressure; and after the heart rate returned to normal, exhaustion.  So I went to see my Heart Doc.  He knows about my DNA (he’s also my Dad’s Heart Doc) so he put a 24 hour heart monitor on me to record every heart beat and my heart rate for that 24 hours.

When I went back for the results, he wasn’t pleased with the report.  He asked me if I wanted to go to Huntsville, Nashville or Birmingham.  Our area does not have the specialist I needed.  It seems he thinks I have this thing called Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia.  I have had heart rates as high at 184 beats per minute.  My local heart doc does not do what needs to be done.  He said he is a cardiac plumber but I need to see a cardiac electrician, someone who is known as a cardiac electrophysiologist.

Well, last week I had my first appointment with the cardiac electrician, Dr. Paul Tabereaux.  He confirmed that my heart has some electrical issues and sat down with me to explain my options (I like options!).  I could take some medication to control it but it would leave me feeling like I felt after an episode, but it would be all the time.  I don’t like that option.  The other option would be to have a procedure called an ablation which should solve the problem.  Oh well, so much for options because I do not want to take more medicine.

This, call it “life-event”, has brought to mind Psalm 139:23 (NLT)

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Dr. Tabereaux described this procedure to me and Debbie in detail.  Entering through a femoral vein, he would insert a catheter, actually several.  Once inside my heart he would create a 3-D map of the inside of my heart.  Then he will send electrical impulses into my heart in order to identify the problem.  Oh, the problem!  Well it seems that these things called nodes have created an electrical loop causing my heart to beat very fast, too fast.  Once the loop is located he will proceed to “burn” part of that loop, thus interrupting that loop by scaring a part of my heart muscle.

Now some, may wonder how creating this “scar” will help my heart.  He assured us that it would do the trick and set my heart back into normal rhythm and thus ending these palpitations.  Not only do I have Dr. Tabereaux’s assurance, but I know some people who have had the same procedure by the same doctor and they are doing well and living their lives.  So that gives us a calmness because the idea of poking around inside, I said INSIDE my heart, well that is a bit disconcerting.  And then burning part of my heart?  He says it will work and I have the personal testimony of others who said it works.

And it hit me, this describes what the Psalmist is talking about in today’s passage.  He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”, similar to what this cardiac electrician knows about my physical heart.  Then he writes, test me and know my anxious thoughts.”  Similar to what this cardiac electrician will do to my physical heart.

Sometimes, the things we put into our hearts, or that we have allowed to stay in our hearts, creates a loop where we never move forward, never move beyond.  And at our invitation, God will come and help identify those “anxious loops” that keep us from going further, growing deeper, and trusting God even more.  The Monday morning attitude is fueled by those “loops”.  Maybe your loop is fear, control, guilt, anger, lust, or shame, just to name a very few.

One of the worst things that can create this “loop” that keeps us from the normal rhythm of Kingdom Life is living outside God’s design for you.  A word that best describes this “loop” that many do not like to use or hear is sin.  We can blame others, or accept the lie that says, “Well, I was just born this way.  It’s who I am and it’s not my fault.”  We need to trust God’s grace to repair these loops.  And the only way He can repair these loops is to let Him into our hearts.  Give Him access to every room, every “chamber” of our heart.  Trust that He knows what He is doing, and listen to the testimony of others who have allowed The Eternal Cardiologist to work on their heart.   Their testimony will be about what He “fixed” in them, not what He needs to “fix” in you. The truth is that God doesn’t “work” on our heart; He does something much better.  He gives us a new heart!

And now I am waiting for Dr. Tabereaux’s office to call me as to when all this will happen.  But in the meanwhile, I am allowing God to “burn off” some things that are keeping my spiritual heart in a loop, rather than following Him to become all He sees in me, all that He made me to be here in His creation.

When we allow God to look inside our hearts and give Him permission to go to work by removing anything that is contrary to His Intended Design for us, then we can say:  “Good!  Lord, it’s Monday!  What shall we do together?”  Let’s pray:

I don’t know any better way to ask it, but the way the Psalmist puts it:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  I give you permission to look at everything and repair those “loops” that are keeping me away from the healthy rhythms of Kingdom Life.  Oh, and help me remember I need to have follow-ups with you to make sure another “loop” doesn’t develop.  Amen and Amen!

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 1 of 2

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Remember that line from those Snickers commercials?  I just love that ad campaign.  I’ve always heard, “Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry.”  Know what?  It’s true!  My wife Debbie will send me grocery shopping when the budget is a little tight.  She sends me because I have a list—and I stick to that list.  If it ain’t on the list it ain’t going in the shopping cart, unless it is a really good sale price.  BUT, you should know I have a but to put in here, if I go when I’m hungry, I stray big time from that list.  So, I don’t go grocery shopping when I’m hungry.

Here’s another but, BUT when it comes to reading God’s Word (The Bible), I need to be hungry; otherwise I will probably miss what my heart is truly hungry for.  To limit one’s self to a list when grocery shopping is a good habit.  My tendency is that without that list I buy too much of the wrong stuff and forget what we really need.  I even have an app on my phone to help me stay with “The List”.  (FYI, my favorite app is ColorNote®)

When it comes to God’s Word, many people read it with a shopping list.  For many people that shopping list doesn’t have “How Can I Be More Like The Real Jesus”.  It has things like, “How can I prove my point?  How can I find a verse to justify my life?” Unfortunately our “twisted-unrenewed-untransformed-into-the-mind-of-Christ” perspective will usually find a verse (taken out of context of course) that justifies our position and our life.  The Bible isn’t God’s gift to help us feel better about ourselves, but His gift to help us know Him better.  Maybe it is better that we just go hungry while “shopping” in the Word.  And in knowing Him better, see a truer image of ourselves.  This truer image of ourselves starts with understanding our own brokenness and sin.  As a side note, read the Bible to see where your life is going wrong, not to point out what’s wrong with others and the world

Let’s look at Matthew 13:1-9 (The Message) 

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.  “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Inside each of us is a hunger that will never go away.  People are always trying to satisfy that hunger.  Some try things like money, possessions, drugs, and power.  Others even try to fill that hunger with respectability.  They try to give the appearance of being kind, caring and loving.  They try to believe if they look good, then they are good.  They truly put on a good show, so good that they are able to hide the emptiness from others, but never from themselves.

This hunger is so much more than anything on this earth can fill.  It is a hunger to hear the voice of God, to hear His Word in a way that is both to us and for us.  Our hearts cry out to hear God speak to us.  We try to silence that cry by occupying our time with other things, but the heart still cries out.  The heart knows what the heart wants and needs.  We try to silence it, but it will not go away.  If you try to give it anything other than The Word, it will not be satisfied.  To truly pursue the heart of God, you must have that unending appetite for His Word. To hunger for the Word means we want to encounter the living God.  There’s more to The Word than ink and pages.  Every word of the Bible is meaningless without the Presence of God.

There is not a single word in this book that will transform us without the Power of God.  I do not mean to be irreverent to God, but I may offend someone who hears this:  Having a well worn Bible does not necessarily mean you have a well formed life in Christ.  Our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things:  And we will look at them tomorrow.

Tired Of Being Tired!

After just a short day of working in the yard, I had an epiphany.  Actually it was more like a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up back of the head.  I am so tired of being tired.  I remember when (dear Lord, I am so sounding like an old geezer!) I would work all day in the yard and not be as tired as I was after only 3 hours.  I know that this body doesn’t work at 61 like I did when I was 21.  But dog-gone-it, I should not be that tired.  I knew which parts of my body I wanted in better shape.

Call it Prevenient Grace, but I received an email from my health insurance provider about a discounted rate for members to join local fitness centers.  A simple 6 minute drive from our home is one of those fitness centers.  It is located next to and operated by the local hospital–that’s good in case I have a coronary event.  They have a variety of exercise equipment that would help meet my personal goals.  And as an added bonus, they have a whirlpool.  I knew my aching joints and muscles would appreciate the treatment.  So, with the debit card information and a click, I joined the Keller Wellness Center.  So, what does my story have to do with the Kingdom Life?  Thank you for asking.  I’ll tell you.

When these thoughts first started fermenting in this mind of mind, I had an idea of which direction I would go–but now, forget that!  I’m now thinking about how this relates to the human tradition of what, in Churchian and Tenured Pew Sitters terminology, is called “church-membership”.  We see nothing in the New Testament about the necessity and value of “church-membership”, yet today a high value is placed on such a concept.  So high that a new group of people have been identified as the “Dones”.  These are the people who were once very active in a local congregation but now, for a variety of reasons, are “Done” with the church.

I’m not exactly sure of where and when this concept of “church-membership” developed, but I do remember what the early Body of Christ looked like and what they did.  You can find in it Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Oops, I just heard a Tenured Pew Sitter say, “Wait a minute.  There it is, church membership–“the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  Very astute of you to notice that, but your application of the context is all wrong.  The Greek word for “fellowship” (or “church” in the KJV) is ekklēsia”  and it means:  “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place”.  There’s nothing here about catechisms to be learned or rules and boundaries to be observed.  The only stipulation was that God had called them out of their old life into His New Life.

This new life is not the church life, but the Kingdom Life.  And this Kingdom Life is all about sharing the life of Jesus with each other and with their communities.  Unfortunately, many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have taken this being “called out” to mean that we are now like American Express.  What do I mean by such a blasphemous statement?  Well it is like this, American Express had an ad campaign back in the 1990’s that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Actually, it would not surprise me if those mad men (and women) of advertising were actually inspired by the American church.

For decades now Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have viewed church-membership as such.  You join and work your way up the ranks.  The more you conform (forget transformation) to the pattern, the more privileges you earn.  But church-membership should be more than earning privileges.  It is about aligning one’s heart, mind, soul and whole life to the principles of Kingdom Living.  Now let me show you how this relates to my recent “joining” the Keller Wellness Center.

I signed up and paid my monthly dues.  But what if I go in there and simply sit, watching others improve the fitness of their bodies?  How is that making my body more fit at 61?  And I even found myself doing something I loathed one day.  I was on an exercise bike, which is quite a feat for me.  For me to sit on a bike, it has to have at least a V-Twin under me; no pedaling for me.  But there I was just pedaling away.  I noticed one person working out on an elliptical and I thought to myself, “They are doing it all wrong!  Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?”  And now I hear the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, “Well played, Tenured Pew Sitter, well-played.”

To be included in the ekklēsia” requires more than sitting.  Looking at the Acts 2 example and pattern it is about 5 things:

  • A shared life together where you get to know, appreciate and support each other
  • Remembering our living is to look like Jesus dying–caring more for others than for self
  • Loving others in ways that they experience the Life God offers
  • Worshipping God only, not our ways and styles of worship
  • And doing it publicly in ways that draws attention to Jesus, not yourself.

Membership does NOT have its privileges when it comes to the Body of Christ.  Membership has duties and responsibilities–like getting out into our neighborhoods and communities living out what we learned together in our gathering and sharing the life of Jesus–the Kingdom Life.  And shamelessly I want to speak to those who live in the vicinity of Sheffield, Alabama.  If you are one of the “Dones”, I want to personally invite you to Sheffield First United Methodist Church where others and myself are moving away from the story of “the church” and into a much bigger epic–the story of The Kingdom of God.

Sorry Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Membership has NO, absolutely NO privileges.  It does have, however, great responsibilities and even greater joy, the joy that comes from living in a much bigger narrative, a life much bigger than any and all of us–it’s called The Kingdom Of God!

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Should The Church Be Neat?

(Again, remember that my perspective is from observing the western church at large, listening to other pastors, and from reading about other’s experiences and life lessons.  These musings are not about any single congregation.  Any resemblance to an actual church, currently in existence or now dead, is strictly a coincidence arranged by the Holy Spirit.)  Well, I must give credit where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings were inspired by a fellow blogger Brandon Andress and his musings Benefit Of A Doubt.  So, if you do not like my musings or are offended by them, just blame Brandon.

Most folks like things to be neat…well except hoarders.  So let me try this again.  Most folks like, want and insist that things be neat in the church on many levels.  Those who like, want and insist on neat in church do so because they genuinely and sincerely believe that it is absolutely necessary that we be neat in order to honor God.  They also believe, and again sincerely so, that neat is what we must have in order to keep God and the things of God sacred.  As a side note, right now I am wondering, “What does this say about sincerity?  Does being sincere mean that we are right?  And does it give us a free pass if we are wrong?”  “Well God, I sincerely believed I was right, regardless of what You said.”  Oh well, I digress to what might become another blog.

What we were talking about?  Oh yeah, people sincerely wanting “neat” in church.  Well, I must ask, “Exactly what does ‘neat’ look like for most church folks?”  One thing is that we must all believe the same things about the Bible, the world view, and God.  Established congregations typically see the Sunday School hour as the time to achieve such a sincere goal.  Each adult Sunday School Class is using the same curriculum for the most part.  This curriculum is selected because it comes closest to their beliefs, thus ‘neat’.  I have heard of congregations that felt their leadership needed to dress down a renegade teacher and class that was not using their approved curriculum.  One time I attended a revival service in one of my community’s church, in an ecumenical spirit.  I noticed a large sign board up front that listed 20 something things that everyone must believe in order to be a member of that congregation.  Neat!

Another thing about neat is that programs must be neat.  Translated, they must be tame.  We cannot have or do anything that does not clearly resemble what was done in 1950, 1960 and early 1970.  After early 1970, that was when things started falling apart.  Each room has a certain function and one can never use it for something else.  Space was assigned eons ago and though there is another class that is growing and run out of space, they cannot have the largest “Young Adults” classroom (which by the way the youngest is 76 years old) which, by means of attrition, now consists of less than a dozen members.  Their motto and mantra is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  And if you cannot embrace this view, well, simply be quiet or go somewhere else, which is usually what they do.  Sadly, they leave not for another church, but give up and walk away from God’s plans.

And when it comes to people, oh yes, they must be neat.  By neat I do not mean just in how they dress…though for many in church this is very important.  I am talking about giving the appearance of having it all together for the most part.  We cannot have people who appear to have real problems.  It used to be that the divorced and alcoholics were the taboos that we never addressed in church other than to condemn.  Now it’s things like drug addictions, domestic violence, sex and sexual orientation.  We cannot allow someone obviously dressed like a hooker sit in here, even though she is struggling and tired of her profession.  We cannot have someone who looks and smells like they have been drinking all night inside the sacred sanctuary, even though he realizes that his life is meaningless and he is looking for a new purpose.  And we certainly cannot have anyone who is from the LBGT community in here, even when they are wondering if God could actually love them they way they are now, or even if they just come to see how the congregation would react to them, even hoping they react against them so they can show just how hypocritical the church is.  When people come into the sanctuary they should appear to have it all together because it is not neat when people come to the sacred building bringing in all their brokenness.  Nope, just can’t have it.  It must be neat and tidy.

But then, there’s this guy by the name of Jesus.  You know, the one they want to honor by keeping everything neat.  The church is called to be the Body of Christ, meaning, to be the presence of Jesus in our time, just as He was the Presence of God when He walked this earth in our human form.  This was what church looked like when Jesus was here as a human being.  Think about those who came to Jesus back then.  Allow me to give you a few images straight from the Bible:

23-25 From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.  (Matthew 4:23-25 The Message)

29-31 He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met.  32-33 Right after that, as the blind men were leaving, a man who had been struck speechless by an evil spirit was brought to Jesus. As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he’d been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: “There’s never been anything like this in Israel!” (Matthew 9:29-33 The Message)

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof (Wow!  Can you imagine the mess on the floor from the roof debris?) and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.” (Mark 2:1-5 The Message)

53-56 They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing. As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat—that’s all. And whoever touched him became well. (Mark 6:53-56 The Message)

16-17 That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah’s well-known sermon: He took our illnesses, He carried our diseases.  (Mark 8:16-17 The Message; by the way, this was on the heels of Jesus healing a leper who came up to Him, healing the servant of an officer in the Roman Army who said he wasn’t good enough for Jesus to come into his home but had enough faith that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word right then and there, and healing Peter’s mother-in-law.)

Look carefully at these passages and get that mental image of what these scenes looked like.  Close your eyes and get this image and do not open them until this scene is etched into your mind.  OK, now that your eyes are open, think about your church on Sunday morning.  Close your eyes again and get this mental picture clear and focused.  Now that your eyes are open (and the Holy Spirit certainly hopes they are now open), does the Sunday morning reality of your sanctuary look anything like the sanctuary of Jesus when He was walking our earth in our human form?

If it does, then I want to say this:  “Hallelujah!  Praise God!  I thank God for you every day!”  And if it doesn’t, I have nothing to say but I do have a question and I hope this question haunts you in a good kind of way (meaning you will not rest until you find the answer and change the current reality):  “Why doesn’t it look like that?”

Remember, Love God with all your heart, Love others the way HE loves you, and make sure ALL the Glory goes to HIM!